Mahatu, Leticia, Colombia (4May2015)

P1170841Cloud formations above the Amazon rainforest

My experience in the jungle environment of the Pacaya Samiria reserve near Lagunas  brought me to an awareness regarding the fragility of my own Life. We are mortals. We have a shelf life. There is an expiration date.  (at least in our present form).

During my stay in Iquitos, I noticed how being in a city environment, where humans live in close proximity to one another… lends an odd sense of security.  Perhaps  that is because human activity seems to dominate the environment; and one can be lulled into a state of non-awareness regarding the imperatives that Nature imposes on all Living creatures.

Modern humans learn ‘science’ and the state of medical science gives the illusion that humans are capable of somehow controlling the world of Nature. What is really so, is that humans have only scratched the surface of understanding the grander context of Nature.

No one knows how Nature came to BE. That is the realm of philosophy, religion, and metaphysics.  So called ‘science’… is based on actual observation(s) of phenomena and the behavior(s) of specific, individuated, identifiable parts in the pantheon of  phenomenon.

We tend to think of Natural phenomena as being comprised of physical attributes.  And we continue to probe into the characteristics of those physical attributes and how the ‘matter’ behaves in varying situations involving movement. How all real science proceeds; is that elements which constitute phenomena are measured in as accurate detail as possible.  Measurements come in the form of physical dimensions; weight/mass/density, and how such phenomena move through space or local geography.

P1170714Living creatures at home on Mahatu grounds

The word Mahatu is from the RapaNui language of Easter Island, in the Pacific. Mahatu means Love.

This was my second stay at Mahatu hostel. The name of the owner/manager of Mahatu is Rene Gustavo Alvarado Reyes.  He is a very interesting man. Born in Boyaca, Colombia, Rene attended traditional church schooling offered by the Salesian brotherhood initiated by a priest known as Don Bosco.

Later, Rene joined the Colombian Army and not long after was in the Colombian navy for a while. He sailed on one of the tall ships (two or three masted sailing vessels)  that was a training ship of the Colombian navy.  He sailed around the world. Later he determined that he did not fit in the military mode at all.

He came to the Amazon with the idea of becoming a guide.  He was unable to continue that as a profession and the found an opportunity in creating a hostel for (mostly young travelers) people from many parts of the world. He created the Mahatu hostel.

Rene has a very unique understanding of Colombia and of this area in particular.  Free wi-fi internet service is provided to all guests. There are kitchen facilities for those so inclined. There are no television screens and the preferred ‘music’ is that of the Natural environment itself.

I had a troubling cold, cough and fever most of my stay. I only left my room to walk to a restaurant.  I stayed in my room, or in a hammock not far from my room most of my recent stay.

I can highly recommend the Mahatu hostel to anyone who values the experience of being in Nature and is not expecting a ‘party’ atmosphere.

P1170724P1170720Above 2 photos show that the road near the banks of the Amazon is at extreme ‘flood’ stage.  Many homes and businesses were flooded. Makeshift planks were hastily erected so people could get around better.

To put it simply,  all physical phenomena can be described in nouns… and all movement of the matter (physical phenomena… stuff) is described in verb form.  Parts of speech; language; describes all known physical phenomena.

What is important?

It would seem that the purpose of Life is to survive and to create more Life.  And yet the obverse is always present. So called Death is an integral part of Life.

Living things derive their Life Force from other Living creatures… (*until even those Living creatures derive their existence from atoms which aggregate into molecules… which interact with one another in a field of ‘energy’).  Living creatures derive the energy required  to fuel their Life from ingesting the constituents of other Life forms… usually involving the death of the creature(s) being masticated/ingested/digested.

We can only understand the relationships that exist in the world of  phenomena that we notice. No one can say how any of the basic building blocks of  phenomena itself came to exist. That is a mystery.  Leave it to clever humans to speculate on potential answers .

Religion (as the word is most frequently used) provides plausible, yet completely unverifiable,  explanations for the original creation of phenomena.

And to this day… no one can ever know anything for certain. One can only stop asking and begin accepting… one story or another.

That is how religion came to be, and how it solves the problem that some have ;  that they are debilitated by uncertainty. Faith or Belief is an effective means to silence the questions to which there are no conclusive answers.

P1170709A map of the Leticia area  (A map is not the territory)

The experience of Life is just that: an experience.  Language based humans forget that language itself is but a symbolic representation of the world of phenomena…  language attempts to ‘define’ phenomena… and it cannot. It can only allude to or point towards (see Lao Tzu)  the actual essence of phenomena itself.

Above: Early morning sounds on the grounds of Mahatu hostel

Life is an amusement park ride and can only be known as a series of  experiences… hopefully interspersed with awakenings or insights or realizations,  that are most difficult to describe in language.

Zen practitioners know that it is futile to attempt to describe the essence of Life’s phenomena using the ‘rational’ faculty.  This is the purpose of deep meditation.  Go inward. Be silent. Observe your ‘self’ observing your Self’.

The Amazon rainforest is inhabited by  a profusion of Life. To experience it is to know your Self a bit better.

The Ayapua and Iquitos museum (24April2015)

The AyapuaThe Ayapua was one of the boats that plied the waters of the Amazon region for the purpose of carrying the men who were known as the ‘rubber barons’. These men enslaved and abused native populations for the purpose of getting the natural rubber from the forests of the Amazon region.

The rubber tree; Hevea brasiliensis, is native to the Amazon rainforest and at the time of the rubber barons was the only place it grew. Later, many saplings and seeds were exported to other tropical regions around the planet to create plantations of this useful plant.

If you ever saw the film: Fitzcarraldo, then you have seen a vessel like the Ayapua. (Fitzcarraldo was produced and directed by Werner Herzog;  featuring the actor, Klaus Kinsky , who many people that interacted with him thought to be  stark raving mad/insane, but who Herzog was able to control somewhat for some incredibly powerful emotional footage)

Henry Ford visited this area during the years of the Iquitos rubber boom and saw the treatment of the native populations. His cars would run on rubber tires… at the expense of cruel and inhuman treatment of innocent forest dwelling peoples.

Roger Casement, an Irish born (once knighted, but stripped of his title… perhaps for bringing uncomfortable issues to light) was one man who did what he could to ring the alarm to the world of the abuses going on near Iquitos.  He championed for the rights of oppressed people in many other places who had not the means to defend themselves nor the experience nor knowledge to even vaguely comprehend their oppressors.  Roger Casement, though not widely known or recognized has been known to some as:  the “Father of twentieth-century human rights investigations”.

Video tour of the Ayapua:


Later, I hired a mototaxi  to take me to the Iquitos museum.

The entrance to the Iquitos MuseumAbove: The entrance to the Iquitos museum

P1170205 P1170206 P1170207The three photos above are an exterior wall on the inside of the courtyard at the entrance to the museum. The walls were draped with a heavy duty geotextile fabric and and pockets were  formed in the fabric. As you can see, the results are a living wall surface composed of many varieties of local plants.  Because it rains frequently in these parts and the sun is seen shining brightly at least part of every day… there is little maintenance needed.

Manguare, early telephone of the jungleAbove: Manguare… handcarved wooden jungle drums

See paragraph three of the story in the following link:

For you scholarly types, here is a link that describes the meanings (to some) of the drumming patterns:

Suffice to say that the manguare drum was a device created for the purpose of communicating in the forested Amazon rainforest. The sound created resonates for a few miles, even in densely forested areas.

A YouTube video of a large Manguare:

Comparison of Earth's riversAbove: A comparison chart of Earth’s rivers

The expansion of IquitosAbove: A graphic chart showing the expansion of Iquitos

…and so Life forms continue their ongoing cycles, in the Amazon rainforest. Iquitos is an excellent example of how modern technology impacts Life of all kinds aboard our tiny (once deemed vast) planet. The balance of existence, the give and take, the tension and compression, of symbiosis is expressed in this city.  It is a microcosm,  petri dish.  As humans expand their dominance over the environment, other creatures lose their habitat.  Barely 100 years ago,  vast virgin forests were home to unknown thousands of species of plant and animal.  The humans that were there then, saw themselves as part of the rainforest itself. They did not see themselves as the ‘ruling class’ of forest dwellers.

Now, a ‘poor’ man (it’s all in the definition) can buy a chainsaw and gasoline and cut five hundred year old trees… so he can buy more things that he and his family now know exist, which were once unknown and therefore not desired.

Now, people whose parents remember wearing only bark or grass clothing go to ‘nationalized’ schools and have cell phones and play video games and surf the internet and learn all about what seems to them, a ‘glamorous’, ‘better’ existence.  And they learn to ‘want’ all the new things for themselves, and they devalue the life of their mother’ and father’s.  And they set up lives in the more ‘civilized’ environs and they buy and sell the things that constitute the symbiotic, interconnectedness of Life and without intentionally doing so, they participate in what may be the destabilization of the ability of Life itself to be sustained aboard our tiny, once balanced, spaceship… hurtling around a minor star… in a galaxy… far, far, away from any other like it.

But, there is hope that people will recognize these things and there are signs of that. Pilpintuwasi butterfly farm and the manatee refuge and animal rescue center, and the Fundo Pedrito paiche farm, and the handful of jungle retreats where foreigners come and sample this fragile cradle of Life.

Iquitos Manatee Refuge Center and Fundo Pedrito Paiche Farm (26 April 2015)

(Kindly forgive me. I have not been faithfully keeping up with my self appointed blog duties. I do not have the skills to determine who is actually interested or following along. I apologize to those few of you who may be disappointed due to my lack of diligence. I have some catching up to do.

Thank you for your continued interest as I report my impressions of my wanderings.

Know, this above all… it is the people that I meet,  some of whom become good friends, and who I am privileged to  know, that are the most wonderful and meaningful part of my entire Life’s journey.)

P1170604Above: (mostly) Peruvian tourists interacting with Amazon manatees

A twenty-five minute mototaxi ride from Iquitos’ Plaza de Armas, on the road to Nauta is  the manatee refuge. This place is supported mostly by tourist entree fees and other donations.  It is a local effort. Management decisions are made by board members of the foundation.

It was a bit of a surprise to me to learn that there are manatees in the Amazon. It makes sense that there would be, but being a non-local and visitor one does not give it much thought. The reality is that this region of the Amazon basin truly is home to amongst the largest variety of living creatures, both plant and animal on our planet.  Iquitos lies merely 3.75 degrees S. of the equator directly adjacent to the world’s largest drainage basin.  All the water that falls on the Eastern slopes of the Andes, that is not evaporated along the way become rivulets, streams, and eventually rivers… which eventually converge into the mighty Amazon.

One fifth of the planet’s fresh water is continually being recycled, molecules transforming themselves into:  vapor (evaporation), cloud formations, highland jungle plant evening/morning condensation, and rain… then the force of gravity causes the then liquid water to be drawn continually ever toward lower elevations where it collects to become rivulets, streams, waterfalls, and rivers.

And all this in a latitude where water never freezes and snow does not fall, and where the sunlight, which shines, either on the terrain below or on the upper surface of clouds,  has done so seven days a week, 365 days a year, for thousands of years.

Most plant life on our planet requires only a few conditions to flourish… water, minerals and sunlight. Some plants are terrestrial other plants are aquatic.  The Amazon provides the perfect environment for all kinds of plants to grow, and thrive.

Plants are amazing. Photosynthesis is nothing short of a miracle. Seeds ‘know’ exactly what to ‘do’… given the proper conditions.  Even before photosynthesis takes over, seeds send their tiny tendrils into the soil, and some towards the sun.  The first roots form using the energy contained in the seed itself, then they begin to absorb the minerals contained in the soil from which the plant continues to build it’s body. The first miniscule leave parts are also formed using the seed’s own energy… then the miracle of photosynthesis takes over. Sunlight powers the process by which carbon dioxide from the air is processed into usable molecules beneficial for the plants growth… and oxygen is released into the air as part of the plant’s ‘respiration’ process.

Plants preceded animal Life. Most all animals derive their energy, second hand… from the energy contained in the plants. No one can say for certain exactly how all this happened, but we know that it did. No one can say with any certainty how all these intricately interwoven Life Processes came to be. We only know that they did and that we are somehow connected to this chain of Life. We are part of it all.

Manatees are vegetarians and eat only aquatic plants.

I do not care to engage in an argument or debate about whether there is/was an ‘Author’ or an ‘Original Inventor’… or whether these processes are part of an Infinitely Eternal, ever changing, simultaneously occurring, ever interrelated, series of events.

It seems to me, enough, to simply Be amazed at the incomprehensible complexity of it and to Be  grateful that I have the capacity to recognize (Be Conscious Of) a tiny glimmer of it.  I think of ‘worship’ as a state of Being in which I reflect back to this Allness, my ‘applause’…  Oh, the beauty of it All ! How mysterious and how truly ‘wonder’ full.

It further seems to me that Life is in the diversity business, not in the ‘one size fits all’ business.  Earth is a large Natural laboratory that never ceases to spin out experiment (Living art forms) after experiment. They rise up,  they exist for a time, they alter and adapt to changes in the environment,  they are superseded by other Living art forms and on and on it goes.  Life seems to extend itself to the limits of it’s ability to adapt.  There is an interplay between the ‘environment’…  (I call it the Ground of Being)  and each Living art form.  Symbiotic relationships extend into ever more diverse environments. Life desires to… Live… and to reproduce itself into as many nooks and crannies and ‘niches’ as possible.

Manatees have a place in all this and Humans do well to notice that all Life is interconnected and that the desire to protect the Life of any Living creature is to stand for the protection of Life itself.  That is what (to me) is the take away message of the manatee refuge and the Fundo Pedrito paiche farm.

Late April of 2015 the water of the Ucayali, Huallaga,  Maranon, and Amazon rivers were in extreme flood stage.  There were emergency tents set up along the roadway for about a mile on the road from Iquitos center to Bellavista/Nanay docks.  The market of Bellavista/Nanay and hundreds of homes and storefronts were flooded.  Makeshift wooden walkways were hastily set up for people to get to the dock, tie-up, area for public transport boats. The waterways are the equivalent of streets in this area.

Many people live in areas close to Iquitos, but need to board a small transport  boat, the riverine equivalent of a taxi/van/ bus to get to their village or home.

Negotiating the narrow one plank wide walkway before boarding a small (peke peke powered) wooden boat is what it took to visit Fundo Pedrito Paiche farm and tourist attraction.

Paiche are a species of very large, very good eating fish that live wild in the rivers of the Amazon basin and are now farmed (aquaculture) as well.

Video of feeding paiche at Fundo Pedrito:

Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm

Pilpintuwasi means ‘butterfly home’ in the Quechua language.  Owned and managed by Gudrun, an Austrian woman, Pilpintuwasi has become part tourist destination, part butterfly farm, and part animal rescue habitat.

It is located on the banks of the Rio Nanay and can only be accessed by boat. From Iquitos, have a mototaxi driver take you to Puerto Bellavista Nanay ; a fifteen minute ride.  Once there ask around for boat going to the small village of Padre Cocha. Tell the boatman that you want to go to Pilpintuwasi. You could walk or mototaxi by land  once in Padre Cocha, but because it is on the banks of a river, a  small boat can tie up right at the property.

Lagunas and Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

Departed Yurimaguas 9AM aboard the boat Bruno. Arrived Lagunas 2:30PM, 16April2015.

Riding on the river is a welcome change regarding the increased comfort level as compared to van travel in mountainous areas.  In the vans, which don’t depart until every seat is filled (18 passengers), it is hot, the roads have hundreds of tight curves tossing passengers to and fro, many potholes, and hour long stops along the way (common in the wet season) waiting for road maintenance crews to clear the road of rock slide debris.

P1160829Above: The Bruno ties up in Lagunas 5 hours after departing Yurimaguas. (Note that there are 3 boats depicted. the Bruno is the one in the middle)

River travel  eliminates many of the discomforts of road travel described above. The river is flat, nearly free of waves or wakes, very little choppiness. There are many, many curves in the river but they are wide ones;  no sense of being tossed back and forth, no potholes,  ‘open air’ travel, and no unexpected road repair stops.

The public transport boats that travel distances requiring an hour or more are made of welded sheet steel and fabricated locally.  They are powered by two very modern 100hp  (usually Yamaha) outboard motors. Such is the Bruno.

It is flat bottomed, with gradually flaring three foot high sidewalls, about 55 feet long, 7 feet wide. There is a roof which extends nearly the whole length. Plastic tarp material is attached the entire roof length along both sides and  is normally rolled up so passengers are exposed to the breezes and the sights. When it rains, often suddenly and in torrents, the sides are rolled down keeping the passengers and gear more or less ‘dry’.  Seat design and comfort vary from boat to boat.  There is a life preserver tied over every seat, one for each passenger.

This kind of travel is not recommended for those who are in a hurry or who are seeking a relaxing, comfortable, ‘vacation’ experience. This is for those who are accustomed to some level of discomfort and who are seeking to experience a special way of Life that is different from modern, more ‘civilized’, metropolitan existence.

An ‘adventure’ is nearly guaranteed if one is willing to experience Amazon river travel the way the people who reside here live and travel. To hundreds of people and families, this way of life is quite normal. To ‘outsiders’ it is an amazing thing; to observe a way of Life that includes such close proximity to the Natural world… 24/7/365.

P1160832Above is  Lagunas: My gear is ported on shoulders to a mototaxi across a raised plank walkway. Sign to left says that the Bruno returns to Yurimaguas at 6PM.

The towns whose banks are on the rivers: Huallaga, Maranon, Ucayali, and the Amazon are accustomed to having ‘high water’ for three months or so every year.

This year the conditions are extreme. Water has risen to levels that have flooded homes and roads directly adjacent to the river bank.  I saw this in Yurimaguas, and in all the towns between Yuri and Lagunas. Where planked docks built on stilts are usually visible, even during ‘normal’ high water season, I saw men and women on these ‘docks’ with water over theirs knees.

Arrived Lagunas 2:30PM, 16April2015. Departed Lagunas (bound for Nauta) 7:54AM, 19April2015.

A lot can happen in 65 hours. My stay in Lagunas and Pacaya Samiria national refuge includes seeing/experiencing  firsthand some of the most prolific animal and plant species as they exist  in their Natural habitat in the Amazon basin.  My stay also included experiencing the truly kind and generous spirits of the people of Lagunas.

Sometimes Life’s adventures can include some amazing high points as well as  very low points, occurring within a short span of time. Such was my experience of Lagunas.

During 29 of those 65 hours I  experienced the most severe asthmatic symptoms ever in my adult life.  My bronchial congestion was so severe that breathing itself was just barely possible. The symptoms began shortly before nightfall at a cabin built on stilts at ‘Pozzo Gloria’, which is a considerable distance into the Pacaya Samiria reserve. My guide; Reiner, had paddled with the current for about 7 hours to arrive at the cabin on stilts, the floor only a foot or two above the water.

Above: Sounds outside my room at the Eco hospedaje during  the afternoon of day of my arrival.

P1160841Above: Morning 18April2015 after my first night in Lagunas, at the start of the canoe journey into the Pacaya Samiria reserve.  There was a downpour from above.

Had not ‘planned’ on a journey to the reserve. During the Yuri to Lagunas boat ride I just happened to be sitting next the president of Huayrurin Tours, based in Lagunas. We chatted briefly. Upon arrival in Lagunas he (Miguel) was kind enough to help me get my gear transferred from the boat to a mototaxi. I had previously decided (from an internet search) that my lodging would be at hospedaje Eco.  I was checked into my room within a half hour of arriving in Lagunas. Miguel invited me to visit his office… and so I did.

I learned that Huayrurin tours is the oldest Pacaya Samiria tour operator in Lagunas. Miguel has spent 40 of his years traveling in the area that is now the reserve. He has other, younger men who do the actual ‘guide’ work now. Miguel tends to the business end of things, managing two offices, one in Yurimaguas and the other in Lagunas. Lagunas only has electricity 5 hours per day; 6PM to 11PM. There is no internet service in Lagunas. Miguel often travels back and forth between Yuri and Lagunas, managing the internet site(s) and reservations received in Yuri.

My visit to the Huayrurin Tours office got me interested in seeing some of the reserve… why not? Who knows when I would be there again? And so… I signed up for a four day tour. It was to include ‘camping’ three nights in the reserve. The first night at Pozzo Gloria… and then the second day it was to include more paddling with the current deeper into the reserve where an even more basic cabin was to be the lodging… the third day was to have been returning to Pozzo Gloria for the night. The fourth day was to have been paddling against the current back to the ranger station where the mototruck would be waiting to return us to Lagunas.

P1160846Above: Guide and canoe handler, Reiner (L)  and the mototruck driver at far (R). The young woman handled the forms needed to give to the park rangers (three forms required… with signatures)

P1160853Above: The mototruck with gear and provisions for a four day journey into the Pacaya Samira reserve.  It was a 30 minute bumpy, muddy ride to get to the ranger station, reserve entrance where we transferred all the stuff into a canoe.


 P1160860P1160875After signing into the park ranger registration book, Rainer and I began the canoe trip into the reserve. During the course of the day I and saw and heard an extraordinary number of animals. Spiders, two kinds of macaws, two and three toes sloths, four different kinds of monkey, eight or ten different kinds of birds including raptors, water striders, dragonflies, eight or ten different kinds of butterfly… and while at a small elevated hut where we stopped for lunch held a three pound white piranha, a usual food fish in these parts.

We encountered a few other folks in canoes.. People know each other around here. Strangers are easily identified and don’t go unnoticed nor unreported amongst the local population. Saw a friend of Reiner who had been very successful netting 20 or so edible fish. He would return to Lagunas and sell them.

Above: Macaws in their Natural habitat and sounds of the wooden paddle gently whisking our canoe forward with the current deeper into the Pacaya Samiria reserve.

Above: Report upon arrival at the cabanas. Breathing issue had just begun, and got worse as night and rain ensued.

My asthmatic symptoms began around 6PM at cabin… and continued to worsen through the night. I had taken a (Salbutimol) inhaler with me. I gave myself two doses every half hour throughout the night. It helped very little. I spent the night in my bed surrounded by mosquito netting in the front leaning position reducing the muscular strain and effort required to breathe. I am sure that everyone heard me laboring for breath all night. There were two other people… who prepared the evening meal at the cabin. There was also another guide and his client, a young man from Italy.  There was little point in disturbing Riener during the night as it would probably have not been possible to see enough to paddle the canoe at  night against the current back to the ranger station.

It rained during the night, sometimes very heavily. At daybreak people began to stir. They prepared a fire to cook breakfast. I rose and dressed. I immediately notified Rainer that I would not continue the planned 4 day journey and I needed to return immediately. Everyone could see that my breathing was very labored. Apparently this is not an unknown phenomenon in these parts, even among locals.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw a park ranger had arrived with a motor (a ‘peke peke’) on his canoe. I’m guessing that someone had alerted him that there might be problem. We had to change canoes which required some makeshift field modifications before all gear, Reiner, the park ranger and myself were in the canoe and motoring against the current toward the ranger station/entrance.

My breathing was still very labored and the inhaler had been exhausted… nothing left. Fortunately, in the sunlight, it was not raining, my condition improved slightly.  The motor sometimes conked out unexpectedly and the ranger cursed a few times. Again, we were underway. Took two hours by motor to get back to the station.  Another hour waiting for the mototruck who was expecting us back in two more days.  A half hour more of bouncing through the mud before arriving back at the hostel where I had another inhaler in my gear.

Had not slept at all the previous night. Was glad to be at the hostel in Lagunas, but even so, the Salbutamol inhaler did little to ‘fix’ my breathing. The owner of the hostel, Miguel the president of Huayrurin tours and Reiner, my guide sat with me for a time and were obviously concerned.

When they did leave, I took a shower, tried to sleep but could not. Walked down to the Huayrurin Tour office in the late afternoon to let Miguel know that I understood that my four day fee had been used to buy supplies and things. Had to stop several times along the way to catch my breath.  I let Miguel know that did not expect a refund.

He  saw that I was still not doing well and offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle to a pharmacy.  He said the owner was a friend of his and had seen these kinds of breathing problems… that an uncle had had them and that the only thing that helped was some kind of injection… which his friend had and knew how to administer. I immediately responded: “Vamanos”  (let’s go).

Received the shot in my rump while lying on a cot in the rear of the pharmacy. It was obvious that this man knew his stuff. He asked me if I had used an inhaler… did it work? … other kinds of meds?.. OK. shot time. He said it might take a while to kick in and that the effects would then last for about 12 hours. He was right.

Returned to the hostal. Took another shower. Electricity came on at 6PM as it had done my first night in Lagunas. I packed up all my gear, very slowly as I was still breathing poorly and I knew that in the morning there would be very little light.  I had learned that there is a boat that goes downriver… to Nauta… departing at 8AM the following morning. I would be on it. Miguel, once again, stepped up and offered to pick me up at 7:30AM and to help get me and my gear loaded on the boat.

After all my gear was packed and I was completely prepared for the following morning… all I had to do was get dressed…. I lay on the bed looking at the one tiny bulb and listening to the sounds outside my room. I was exhausted… no sleep the previous night and breathing was still difficult. I must have fallen asleep sometime after the electricity went out. I awoke around 2AM… startled from a very weird dream… but very grateful to discover that my breathing had greatly improved.

P1170005Above: 65 year old Wellington; resident of Lagunas

At 7:30AM Miguel was there with a mototruck as he had promised. Wellington, who I had spoken with at the office and who had recommended that I try mixing honey with wild lemon juice for my breathing. He said he used it every morning and evening for about three months and he said he used to have breathing problems and no longer does.  He rode in the back with me and the young woman from the office. They all came to see me off and to wish me well. Miguel drove the mototruck.

Wonderful, kind, caring, generous people. I have nothing but good things to say about the people of Lagunas.

Yep, a lot can happen in 65 hours… even in the middle of a jungle environment where electricity is a sometimes thing and where plants and animals vastly outnumber human critters.

Was aboard the boat to Nauta just in time… it actually left a few minutes early.  My breathing was very much improved. I was told to expect a twelve hour boat ride. Was very pleasantly surprised when we arrived in Nauta around 6PM… only a 10 hour boat ride.

I have lived to tell the tale… which remains my ongoing intention.

Next: Nauta and onward to Iquitos

Yurimaguas April 2015

Departed Moyobamba at 10AM April 13th.

Moybamba to Tarapoto: 2 hours. Changed vans in Tarapoto. Used the longest running, most reliable transport service in this area: Tourismo Selva.  Departed Tarapoto around 2PM Arrived Yurimaguas around 6PM.

As usual in these parts; the van (packed to the gills with 19 humans aboard) was halted for a full hour en route, waiting for road maintenance crews to clear rock slide debris.

Checked into a previously unknown hostel in Yuri around 6:30PM. By 7:30 I had all my gear sorted out in the small room, logged onto the new router, and went out to get my bearings and a bite to eat. The power went out just before I left the hostel and partially returned as I walked to the main plaza.  Ate and made it back to the hostel around 11PM.

The following morning I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the small town. I was here last year (it’s in a previous blog post). I fell in love with the market then. This year was no different.

Below: A short walk through one street of the Yuri market area

Is it any wonder at all why I have required myself to take up the practice of fasting every so often?  I’m putting on weight again… just like many folks in this vid. Hard not to pack on a few extra pounds around here…  all this delicious stuff is available, every day, year round, at very affordable prices for all who live here.

For travelers intending to head further East from Yuri… this is where one trades wheels for propellers. No roads between here and Nauta/Iquitos. Only way to proceed is on a boat. Two or three types of boat exist. One type is a large (usually very old) cargo vessel, where passengers hang their hammocks on one or two decks just for that purpose. Cargo vessels are slow because they stop frequently at the small towns that dot the shore and they unload whatever cargo was requisitioned before continuing. It could take three to four days to go from Yuri to Iquitos on a cargo vessel.

The next two types of boat are  mostly for ‘local’ passengers. One of these types has a very small ‘peke-peke’ motor which is really a lawn mower engine with a locally fabricated six to eight foot long shaft at the end of which is a propeller. These rigs are basic, no-nonsense vessels for very local traffic. Most river edge dwellers have a friend or family member who has access to a boat/motor like this.  They do not go very fast and are very slow against the current.  You will sometimes see whole families carrying bananas, plantains, yucca or other stuff to market in these things.

The next type is made for ‘commercial’ travel. These are built of thin sheets of steel. They are flat bottomed and have flared sides that are welded to the bottom that extend upward and outward for about three feet. These vessels are often 50 feet or longer and about seven feet wide maximum. They will often have old school bus bench seats and can carry 40 to 60 people, their luggage or smaller cargo. These boats have two modern (usually Yamaha) outboard motors. Often 100 hp each  engine. These boats are the riverine equivalent of a bus or van service.  This is what I chose to travel to my next destination downriver… Lagunas.

The boat/service I found was called ‘Bravo’. They do travel back and forth between Yurimaguas and Lagunas every day. They depart Yuri at 9AM (buy your ticket the previous day and arrive at the dock early).  The Yuri/Lagunas run goes with the current. It takes 5 hours. The Bravo departs Lagunas and head back (upriver… a longer ride) to Yuri at 6PM.

Next up: Lagunas

Moyobamba Easter 2015

P1160493Brightly painted wall outside Orquideas Amazonicas

Moyobamba calls itself the ‘city of orchids’. The area is home to over 3000 species of orchids. The temperatures, the altitude, the soil, the perfect combination of sun and rain all make the Province of San Martin and of the city of Moyobamba the perfect environment for orchids and bromeliads to flourish… and they do.

Below: Short video walking through a small part of the orchid nursery in Moyobamba

Moyobamba is also home to naturally heated hot springs ‘aguas termales’.  The municipality of Moyobamba administers and maintains the baths. The very affordable entrance fee makes it possible for anyone in the area to enjoy the benefits of this place. I was there on ‘Good Friday’.  All during ‘Semana Santa’ (Holy week) families get together there, maybe enjoy a picnic lunch, sit in the pools, swim, and just hang out together.  Grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, teens, tots, and toddlers are seen together, enjoying the company of each other. HotSpringsOfMoyobamba 3April2015Above: Aguas Termales de San Mateo. At Left is a small stream. At right/lower are two different ‘pozzo’s (pools) of hot water. Above the pools are showers to be used before entering pools. Upper level is a medium depth swimming pool and a mini pool for toddlers.

I had been here before and was hoping that the hot springs were open.  Was very happy to learn that they were open. As previous posts have mentioned (and shown) mud slides (huayco) and rock slides (derumbles) are a yearly phenomenon in many parts of Peru during the rainy season.  More rain equals more slides. In November there had been a mud slide that washed right through the above hot springs. The people of Moyobamba are hard working folks. Not sure how long it took, but from the following video you know it required a lot of time and effort to clean the place up and repair the damage.

 Scenic views of the Rio Mayo can be experienced a very short distance from the center of town.  There is a ‘mirador’ (scenic overlook) and a pedestrian only walk along a ridge. One can see miles of the river valley and Puerto Tahuishco below. This area is also where a few late night ‘discotecas’ (bar/dance halls) are located, as well as some great restaurants. Known locally as ‘La Boulevard’… or ‘La mirador de Puerto Tahuishco’.  The stairway from the boulevard down to the port has about 400 steps, I counted.

The port area is brand new, completed in late 2014.  There are docks and there are the same kinds of boats as are common on the Amazon river.

I spoke with the captain of a small boat that let off five passengers. I asked if his vessel was a tourist boat. He, of course said it was. Then, I asked where he would take tourists. He said, upriver to a small bridge that crossed the river. I asked how long a ride. He said about a half hour to the bridge. I asked how much. He said 30 soles (10 bucks). I asked if a person could get out at the bridge and get a taxi to town from there. He said no. I asked how does one get back. He said the boat just turns around at the bridge and comes back to Puerto Tahuishco. I asked how much to return from the bridge. He said 30 soles per passenger. So…if I got it right (maybe he was saying 30 soles round trip) it is an hour long tourist boat ride that might be fun, but goes nowhere, and costs either 10 or possibly 20 bucks depending on the interpretation of the captain’s response to my questions. Then I asked what happens if you go downriver. He said that you hit rapids about an hour downriver.

Bottom line is that the new port is skillfully designed and constructed; is  very beautiful, and was only built as a tourist attraction with very little practical need.

To Tarapoto 3/31/15

P1160346 Pizana Express transport has over ten years experience servicing the route between Tingo and Tarapoto

I thought that ‘Pizana express’ might have had something to do with Italian immigrants… until I learned that there is a small town along the way named Pizana. Still don’t know the origin of the name, maybe Italian immigrants named the town.

I had been on this route twice before. Once heading South on my motorcycle adventure in September 2012 and S. once again last year on, my Amazon adventure heading to Pucallpa to board a cargo vessel on the Ucayali back to Iquitos. (I had come upriver from Iquitos on the Amazon, Maranon, and Huallaga rivers and had disembarked at Yurimaguas)

Last year I spent the night in Tocahe and got  a car service to take me to Tingo Maria. There are ‘gas stations’ along this route. Gas stations with pumps like most Westerners know. The car I was in last year and the van I was this time… both stopped at this odd place with no pumps.

The driver got out and I heard him order ‘cuatro’. What he meant was ‘4’ of something. The ‘something’ turned out to be four 5 gallon buckets of gasoline… poured into the tank through a funnel by hand. I have no idea why they do this. It is obviously some kind of a business arrangement. Must be cheaper somehow. I don’t know the particulars.

P1160364Photo taken through my van window

The van ride from Tingo Maria to Tarapota took eight hours, actual on the road driving time. The route is through low jungle scenery.  It gently wends it’s way through rolling tropical foliage laden hill country, passing through the medium sized towns of Tocache and Juanjui and many other smaller villages.

This area is well off the established ‘gringo trail’… meaning that there are few Anglo types seen in these parts.

There seems to be a remnant of the ‘shining path’ revolutionary group that was known to rob and kidnap travelers as few as twelve years ago. Times have changed. They now call themselves ‘local security’ force(s). Different ‘stops’ are an hour or so from one another… and they all have different arms and different dress… leading one to suspect that there probably is no ‘central command’. It is very possible that none of the separate groups are even acquainted with one another.

The ‘remnant’ of uniformed young men with open weaponry now does its best to get all passing traffic to stop. Sometimes they stand directly in the road, other times they simply show their weapons and use hand signals. Sometimes the driver stops, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the passengers in the vehicle offer money, sometimes they don’t. My policy is ‘when in Rome…’ in other words, if other passengers offer money I’ll cough up a coin or two.

A local 'security force' member asking for donationsAbove: Taken a few miles North of Tocahe

I motioned to my camera and gestured to see if this fellow had any problem with me taking his picture through the van window. He grinned and nodded.

P1160369Road side pineapple vendor (two different species) near the town of Aucuyacu

Actual time in the van was over nine hours, which includes the stops to let some passengers out and others on… and the lunch stop an hour or so North of Tocache.

Roadside cafe meal of wild deer, yucca,potato,beans,and riceRoadside cafe meal: wild deer, yucca, potato, rice, beans, lettuce, hot aji sauce

P1160406Finally arrived Tarapoto… I let the mototaxi driver wheel my gear over to his rig

The name of my hospedaje in Tarapoto was La Siesta. I stayed there based on a recommendation from the mototaxi driver I used upon arriving from Tingo Maria. I was tired and in no mood to shop around for a place to stay. I had checked online for Tarapoto hostels: ‘La Posada’… as the name I first gave to the moto taxi driver. He said it was overpriced and so I took his word for it.

Hospedaje La Siesta was about seven blocks from the ‘plaza de armas’… which is (are) invariably considered to be the center of town.  The mototaxi driver was correct. I checked out a few places near the center and they were all double what I was paying… and many also did not offer ‘hot’ water.  Tarapoto is a tropical town, and most of the time one would be happy to have a cool shower.

There is not much to interest a traveler in Tarapoto proper. There are many tour agencies that offer tours of the area, but most destinations are some distance from town.

I lost my bearings walking around town on my first night there and had to get a mototaxi to return me to La Siesta. Next morning I got up and familiarized myself with the neighborhood I was in and it’s relation to the center.  There are many very nice restaurants and panaderias (bakeries) in town.

I had not seen a movie at a proper movie theater in a while. I like to see films on the ‘big screen’. I learned online that Tarapoto has a new cinema. I learned from a mototaxi driver that there are two. I had him take me to the nearest one. It was packed. Looked like it would have taken an hour just to get to the ticket counter. I opted to not go.

Instead, I walked around the neighborhood where the cinema was located(fifteen minutes from hospedaje La Siesta).  I found a nice looking ‘chifa’ (Chinese restaurant).  Advertising banners that were still up indicated it had opened around Christmas.  I ordered roasted chicken…  they serve it with a generous portion of ‘papas fritas’ (french fries) and several sauces: ketchup, aji, red sauce, and mayonnaise. Mmmmm… good!

Spent three nights at La Siesta before deciding that I really missed the luxury of feeling warmer water for my showers. I also knew that I could immerse myself in naturally heated pools of water… hot springs in Moyobamba.

Next post: Moyobamba

Six hours to Tingo Maria 3/26/15

From Huanuco…  onward to Tingo Maria.

P1160210Turismo 10 Office in Huanuco

I always locate the ’emprsas de transportes’ that serve my next destination a day or two before I depart where ever I may be. That way I know exactly how long it will take a taxi to get me there the day I decide to go.

There are few buses in these parts. Most of the transport is done in ‘combis’… which are heavy duty vans that will hold up to 21 people (in the states these would be rated 16 passenger vans).  Because there are so many small villages that require public transport services, different companies only service certain routes.

During the wet season, all kinds of major/minor rain related disasters occur. Rock slides can suddenly block a road. Mud slides do the same or can wreck havoc on buildings or neighborhoods almost anywhere in the Andes. Avalanches are common in the higher altitudes. Earthquakes are not uncommon, but unrelated to the changing of the seasons. These things are taken as a normal part of life… just as snow and low temps are in the Northern latitudes… just as hurricanes and tropical storms are taken for granted in the semi tropics.

When I arrived at the office serving Tingo Maria from Huanuco there was a large flat panel screen with a news program on. The reporters were covering the floods in Santa Eleulia. Video images  showed rescue workers bagging bodies of people who had drown… mothers and family members wailing and the uniformed guys with their stoic ‘just doing my job’ demeanor.

I was informed that the road between Huanuco and Tingo Maria had suffered a major rock slide event. They assured me that road crews had arrived and were working on it. The best estimates were that it ‘might’ be cleared completely in about a week.

That may sound like a lot of time to those unfamiliar with the area and with the nature of the problem(s).  These roads are not superhighways. They are narrow two lane roads. Truck and buses can negotiate the route when all is well.

Imagine that there are several scores of large trucks and some buses that have encountered such a rock slide… which has completely obliterated the road. How are they going to turn around? Remember this scenario happens on BOTH sides of the gap. Now, imagine bringing in heavy equipment needed to clear the mountain of rubble… and then they have to repair the area enough for truck and bus (as well as cars/motorcycle) traffic to pass.  Not as easy as it sounds.

Because such events are not uncommon in these parts, there are procedures that have developed.  Police; both local and national are notified, they arrive on the scene to coordinate rescue and repair efforts. A few police are immediately stationed at such an event 24/7 to help prevent hot tempers from getting out of hand. What happens is, a kind of ‘temporary town’ appears. Vendors arrive offering whatever anyone needs. The truckers are very accustomed to sleeping in their vehicles. No traffic passes at night.

During the day, the procedures allows that people intent on traversing the rock slide area from either direction may do so… but only during certain specific times of the day… as the work crews determine. No vehicles of any kind will pass the rock slide itself.

People will exit the vehicles that brought them to the area from their town of origin… and they will then proceed on foot,  carrying whatever they have… up and over… and past the rock slide… to the other side of it.  When the people walk far enough, they will find public transportation that is ready to take them to the next town. For me Tingo Maria.

What is normally a two hour ride can turn into a much longer day. I arrived at the Huanuco office at noon… arrived at the rock slide by 1:30PM… sat for two and a half hours to be given the OK to walk through… got into a combi van around 4PM and arrived in Tingo Maria around 5:10PM.

I had been to Tingo Maria a few times before. Once on my motorcycle journey in 2012 and once last year as I did my Amazon adventure. I like the feel of Tingo Maria.



On to Huanuco 3/23/15

The People of Huaraz are healthy and strong. I deeply admire and respect the people of the Ancash region. Those who have ancestral roots here are direct descendents of the Incas. Many  still tend their corn (maize) and quinoa and llamas as the have for centuries.  Only dna and/or blood tests can reveal the extent of genetic mixing of these peoples since Pizarro arrived.

The mingling of cultures is obvious. Catholic buildings  are a ubiquitous presence. Many ‘evangelical’ protestant groups have substantial followings… Seventh day adventists, Ba’hia, Hare krisha and Mormons have a presence. There is a ‘plaza de armas’ in most every town. Quechua  is often heard in the marketplace. There are  ‘festival’ posters showing various cultural/historical images: Actors in the garb of conquisatores side by side with people in Incan costume and images of the crucified Jesus… all blended together.

My 11 day stay at the newly opened Santa Cruz Trek Hostal was a good one. Abundant hot water, new bed, quiet neighborhood, (a very economical price) great local food… delicious mountain air… vibrant, friendly people… all these things made it hard to leave Huaraz.

Found that there is only one transport company exiting Huaraz towards Huanuco.  The ‘Rapido’ transport company has three buses departing daily. 6AM, 1PM, and 3PM.  The bus goes to Huallanca and La Union only. From La Union one must hire a car to continue on to Huanuco.

P1140975Above: El Rapido Bus  in company, Huaraz 5:30AM

I chose the 6AM bus. Paid my bill at the Santa Cruz hostel the night before departing.  A young man would get up at 5:15AM and help me lug my bags down a flight of stairs and help me hail an early morning taxi.  I knew how far it was from the hostel to the bus office. Had all my bags completely packed before going to bed. Slept lightly. Arose at 5AM. Dressed. Stripped my bed. Piled my sheets, pillow case, and towel into a neat pile. Removed all my trash from the room. I like to leave a place as clean as I can and have it ready to be prepped for the next guest.

Was at the ‘El Rapido’ office by 5:30AM. Had a quinoa beverage sold by a sidewalk vendor in front of the station. Sat in the waiting area with others, watching the ever present flat panel television screen showing local news and images. It appeared to me that most travelers were local business people. Many had small laptops in tow.

We were invited to  board the small bus at 5:55AM.  It departed shortly after 6AM as advertised. The journey was to take exactly 4 hours from Huaraz to La Union, making various stops along the way until arriving in Huallanca where it stopped for 10 minutes before continuing on to La Union.

The bus route is a continuous long low climb ascending among the Huayhuash range. There are some spectacular vistas of distant peaks along the way. The climb is steady for 2 hours before any descent. Then there is the constant ‘s’ curves up and down before a long decent into a lovely narrow valley.

P1140987Bus window view gradually climbing into the Huayhuash

P11600203 Hours East of Huaraz between Huallanca and La Union

At La Union there were cars waiting to take passengers on to Huanuco.  La Union to Huanuco is 137km. That ride takes another full 3 and a half hours.

P1160023P1160031Above: Bus station and street view of La Union (The red car was my ride to Huanuco)

If you have time or interest, you might find it amusing to do a Google Earth route from Huaraz to Huanuco. You will find the route from La Union to Huanuco of particular interest.  Imagine stitching together a hundred or so ‘S’ curves that are carved into the side of steep areas looking down into a continuously winding series of river valleys. There are no guard rails.

I sat in the front next to the young driver. There were two passengers in the back seat and we did pick up a third along the way. Buses do not do this leg of the Huaraz/Huanuco route during the rainy season. Many occasional (smaller) rock and mudslides are cleared on a daily basis. People accept this as a normal part of life.

Drivers get used to having to lay on the horn approaching the numerous ‘blind’ curves. You never know what might be right around the corner.  This is not a journey for those who spook easily. Once you do develop some confidence in your driver it is possible to enjoy the spectacularly beautiful scenery.

P1160039From the car window La Union to Huanuco